As someone who follows fashion and women’s lifestyle magazines, I can’t help but notice the digital takeover that marks the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show each year.
In addition to the outlets that are paid to cover the spectacle the day of, popular influencers, photographers and editorial brands flood millions of feeds by showcasing models at fittings, working out and otherwise preparing to walk for millions of viewers weeks prior to the show.
The reaction videos of young women told they’ll be joining the squad of “angels” walking down the runway for the first time go viral and new generations of supermodels share emotional tributes to Victoria’s Secret in Instagram captions admitting it’s always been their dream to participate in the show.
There are the very obvious issues with the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show like the fact that it exists almost exclusively to sell underwear made by prisoners or at the expense of third-world factory workers while catering to the male gaze. Or that it exalts a body type standard—leggy, tan, size 0—while lending little consideration to the fact that the average American women (as in, the demographic responsible for the backbone of their success) is a size 16. These issues are significant and have been covered extensively by critics. But Victoria’s Secret isn’t listening nor do they care about their consumers’ priorities.
Paradoxically, they want consumers to conform to their company’s brand priorities (like profit) by peddling the carefree aspirational lifestyle of an “angel” when it’s anything but. Victoria’s Secret invests millions each year to fabricate this aspirational lifestyle through strategic contracts, marketing and the promotion of extravagant luxury like their $3 million, 450-carat Fantasy Bra.
This year, the brand has begun inundating social media with content showing their models casually lounging in full hair, makeup and Victoria’s Secret branded clothing flying to Paris for the show. This aligns their brand identity with the projected jet-set glamour of a model’s life while ignoring that for each one that successfully achieves this level of notoriety, there are thousands exploited and living paycheck to paycheck.
Because the level of their marketing has allowed them to infiltrate the attention of even the most casual observer, I’ve become more concerned about the damage it’s doing to future generations growing up on social media, many of whom can’t tell the difference between native advertising and “real” content.
The executives behind Victoria’s Secret brand strategies know that by investing in multi-million dollar contracts with it-girl influencers like Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner, they’re reaching the next generation of consumers—the 60 million known as Generation Z, a key demographic with a reported spending power of $44 billion in the U.S. alone.
Whether by capturing the aspirations of the young women who want to feel like “angels” themselves or seizing the attention of young men who will expect women to fit a specific standard of looks, Victoria’s Secret is cashing in.
The Telegraph reports the company’s earnings were $7.2 billion for the year ending January 31, 2015, turning a profit of $1.2 billion.
Selling an aspiration lifestyle isn’t new to Victoria’s Secret or within the broader context of consumerism. Our economy encourages consumers to acquire goods in ever-increasing amounts but even more so when brands promise to fulfill the vision of ourselves we dream of actualizing (or feel that we should be to begin with). Yet Victoria’s Secret has taken this paradigm to disproportionate levels.
On the subject of PINK, the subset of the company marketed to teenagers, their Chief Financial Officer has said: “When somebody’s 15 or 16 years old, what do they want to be? They want to be older, and they want to be cool like the girl in college, and that’s part of the magic of what we do at PINK.”
And with the promotion of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, the hollow archetype of the “cool girl” they’ve crafted captivates the imaginations of millions of viewers tuning in. Thin young women covered in little else than underwear and satin promote the experience as the fulfillment of their greatest career dreams. And the individual involvement of these women would be subversive to the patriarchal objectification they’re subjected to if they weren’t just selling a product at the end of the day while being strategically sexualized by the very people that hired them.
The bottom line is this cool girl doesn’t exist.
But with the cultural exaltation of the Victoria’s Secret brand and fashion show, the execs behind the fabricated lifestyle are banking on the fact that millions who don’t know better will believe she does and purchase the bra that promises to transform them into such. And millions of women get to dream of being an “angel” without realizing their bodies are already holy.
Either way, I’m not buying it.